Italian football embroiled in new match-fixing scandal
Police arrest 16 people in Italy and Hungary over allegations of fixing results
HOW DO you solve a problem like Mauri? That is the question that should be troubling the football authorities today. In case you missed it, Lazio captain Stefano Mauri was arrested on Monday by police investigating match-fixing in Italian football.
The 32-year-old Mauri wasn't the only influential figure to have his collar felt. Juventus coach Antonio Conte (pictured), whose side won the Serie A earlier this month, had his home searched and the BBC reports that the police "are searching more than 30 homes, including those of players, trainers and administrators of clubs in Serie A, Serie B and lower divisions".
In total, 11 current and former professional players were held following the raids and five people arrested in Hungary are also part of the investigation into an illegal international betting ring.
Conte has been dragged into the affair after one of his former players, Filippo Carobbio, accused him of complicity in fixing two matches when he was in charge of Siena in the 2010/11 season. But Conte, who won 35 caps for Italy in the 1990s, issued a vigorous denial of the allegations on Monday, saying: "My football history as a player and coach speaks volumes. You can ask my team-mates, my players and my opponents."
Conte isn't the only person now at Juventus caught up in the police investigation. The club's international centre-back Leonardo Bonucci stands accused of involvement in match-fixing during his time at Bari. According to former teammate, Andrea Masiello, who has admitted accepting money to score an own goal, Bonucci also had a hand in fixing results.
"This is a worrying affair for the football world and we're following it with apprehension and bitterness but that doesn't mean Antonio Conte is part of it," said Juve president Andrea Agnelli. "As a club Juventus and I personally are standing beside Antonio Conte and Leonardo Bonucci. We hope Leo will play a great European Championships. Antonio is and will be our coach next season in the Champions League."
Bonucci will remain with the Italy squad as they prepare for next month's European Championships but Domenico Criscito has been removed following Monday's events. The 25-year-old left-back had his hotel room searched by police in a dawn raid and Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has deemed it best to stand him down. "I'm not taking Criscito bcause we would have had to face pressure that no human being could have handled, he's certainly not serene," said Prandelli.
The latest allegations are another heavy blow for the image of Italian football and Fifa and Uefa must start to consider what action should be taken. Like Pakistani cricket, there has been one scandal after another in recent years and the sanctions imposed by the Italian authorities are clearly not acting as a deterrent.
The 'Great Italian Football Scandal', in which it was revealed that Luciano Moggi, the then Juventus general director, was rigging matches on a regular basis, broke in 2006. That he was eventually caught was a result of a separate investigation by the Italian judiciary into the activities of the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia, which uncovered evidence of an illegal betting ring involving some of the biggest clubs and most powerful men in football.
The four clubs at the heart of the scandal were Juventus, Fiorentina, Lazio and AC Milan, the latter of which was owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister.
Juventus were relegated to Serie B as a punishment while the three other clubs had points deducted when the 2006-07 Serie A campaign began. Such relatively mild sentences appear to have had no effect on the integrity of the Italian game and it may now be time for Uefa to take a much tougher line and warn the clubs to take corruption seriously or risk being thrown out of European competition.